The title of this review is exactly how I felt about this book as a whole– dear God, I hope my current relationship is forever. Mainly because I need his wages to cover the cable bill, but also because I’m not sure I’d fit in today’s text-heavy dating scene.
A primer on contemporary dating trends, Modern Romance is filled to the brim with actual data. Popular dating site Match allowed their research team (headed by co-author Eric Klinenberg of New York University) access to their data, providing a trove of information to bolster their online dating theories. Additionally, there were multigenerational focus groups conducted around the world in places like Argentina, France, and Japan. They even followed the text messages of multiple people in the dating scene to see how they interacted with other romantic partners.
From a research standpoint, this book exceeded my wildest dreams, and validated much of what my single friends have told me. For someone as un-funny as myself, it was the perfect amount of humor and information. But it has its limits, some of which Ansari presents up front in the first chapter. The book explores mostly middle-class heterosexual couples, because to do otherwise would presumably double the length of a book turning it into a much larger project. It’s a fair point, at the very least because LGBT couples have a host of other dynamics that would have to be explored in order to do the subject justice.
Modern Romance’s major (MAJOR ALL CAPS) flaw wasn’t that he decried the Tenga egg (don’t click that at work, y’all), but that it completely overlooked the ways that prejudice exhibit themselves in online dating. There aren’t many forums that are suitable for discussing and analyzing how Asian woman are exoticised and the ridiculous things that people say to black women (not to mention that no one seems to want us), but Modern Romance would have been perfect. In fact, the concept is so well documented and informally researched that its absence in a book by a person of color was rather conspicuous. More than that, it was frustrating, because Ansari had the necessary target audience by the horns, and missed an opportunity to educate them.
That frustration was both exacerbated and mollified by the extensive amount of time he spent talking about online manifestations of sexism/patriarchy. Mollified because it needed to be discussed; exacerbated because it means they stared the rest of the problem in the face and still chose to put it aside.
Modern Romance is still an entertaining and worthwhile read because it brings relevant research directly to a population who is otherwise unlikely to look for it on ProQuest or JSTOR. It meets the people where they are and is revolutionary in doing so. When was the last time you remember there being a 50 person wait for a social science book at your local library? It’s remarkable when you think about it. Ansari’s voice provides just enough absurdity to make what is essentially an extended research paper feel… readable. It’s not too far from what Jon Stewart/Trevor Noah/Samantha Bee/etc. do with the news, so we know it’s a model that works (because slow jamming the news makes it so much sexier).
Thinking about reading Modern Romance? Do it, especially if you’re a fan or Master of None, since a lot of the material echoes what’s in the show (almost TOO much). I’d also consider listening to the audiobook, as long as you’re not bothered by missing out on the graphs and charts (you can always open a copy at your local bookstore to take a peek, anyway). Ansari is a stand-up comedian, so why not give him the opportunity to do what he does best? It also might be worth it just for the 10-minute berating he gives at the beginning of the audiobook, where he lets listeners know just how lazy he thinks audiobooks readers are for not actually reading.
Are you familiar with any of Aziz Ansari’s work? Have you read Modern Romance? Better yet, do you have any other books about dating that I’d find interesting? Let me know, because I need to talk about it with someone!